Literacy isn’t the only thing Washington, DC, public libraries offered kids this summer. They also served up some lunch.
“We wanted to make sure they had a reason to come,” says Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian for the District of Columbia. “Sometimes the kids will come for the lunch, and sometimes they come for the program.”
This year, 11 out of 25 branches participated in the DC Free Summer Meals Program, providing kids 11,550 boxed lunches that include carrots, sandwiches, and chocolate milk—all fully funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Now in its second year, the public libraries decided to add special programming to the day’s lunch— with the topic and activity individually handled by each branch, says Cooper.
Students who are eligible for free or reduced priced school lunches also qualified for the free summer meals —although any child could take part in all branch activities that took place during the 1 p.m.- 2:30 p.m. slot when lunch was served. While programs varied at each branch, they included reading hours, science programs—and even a chance to play Wii games while snacking on fruit cups.
Although numbers are still being tallied, Cooper says branches have reported seeing more kids since the program launched in 2011—whether that includes coming in early to read or staying after “to appreciate the air conditioning,” she says.
During the summer months, just 14.5 percent of kids eligible for free lunch actually receive the meals. But DC ranks number one in the country in its ability to reach these communities. It boasts getting meals to 73.5 percent of qualified children, says Sandra Schlicker, deputy superintendent of DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education Government. Meals are served at 343 Summer Meals sites throughout Washington, DC— with some serving up to two free meals each day.
“Our goal is 100 percent,” she says. We don’t want any child to be hungry in the summertime.
Meals are delivered at about 7:30 a.m. at participating branches, says Cooper. And while most libraries don’t open until 9:30 a.m. or 1 p.m. depending on the day, library staff must be present to accept deliveries of the boxed lunches. Refrigerators were also purchased with grant money to keep the meals fresh for lunch time.
This year, DC expanded the number of library lunch sites to 11 from seven, and Cooper says next year it could include the new Mt.Pleasant branch, which opens this September.
“Just as teachers see kids who are hungry, so too, library staff noticed kids who were hungry,” says Cooper. “We’re thrilled to be able to feed their bodies as the same time as providing nourishment for their minds.”
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